This essay will consider
the influence of religion, science and societal differences on the changing
understandings of sexuality, focussing particularly on the changing understandings
of homosexuality. I will be exploring the changing understanding of sexuality
throughout history by analysing examples found in the Bible, psychoanalysis and
national variations. By using theories of homosexuality as a curable illness, religious
influence on sexuality and the social construction of homophobia, I will
display how understandings of sexuality, vary significantly, concluding they
are determined predominantly by culture, society and religion.

 

This paragraph will
consider the influence of religion on our
understandings of sexuality over time, focussing specifically on religious understandings
of homosexuality. The earliest example of this condemning of homosexuality
within religion is found in The Book of Leviticus (c. 538 – 330 BCE), the third
book of the Old Testament of the Bible. The Book of Leviticus outright condemns
homosexuality by stating, ‘You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is
an abomination’.1
Leviticus’ reference to homosexual activity as being an ‘abomination ‘signifies
homosexuality to be not only be sinful also refers to it being a breach of the
‘Moral Law’, in terms of the three categories of Old Testament Law.2 Leviticus not only
condemns homosexuality for being immoral but also calls for its punishment, ‘If
a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination;
they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them’.3 This statement displays
the Old Testaments hatred of homosexuals to be so severe that they determine
homosexuals to be deserving of death. The Book of Leviticus has become a
foundation for anti-homosexual argument throughout history, an argument still
being upheld by Christians to this day, despite the argument being over two
thousand years old and arguably extremely outdated. From this, it can be argued
that although society has seen rapid changes in their understandings of
homosexuality over the past two thousand years, religion has remained fairly
rigid. Some argue that this is because ‘we are not under the Law and therefore
if Leviticus is dismissed along with its clear condemnation of homosexuality,
then shouldn’t we also dismiss other Levitical teachings such as practicing
adultery, incest and beastiality’. 4 Furthermore, if we are to
ignore the teachings of the book of Leviticus simply because it is Old Testament
law and therefore supposedly outdated, then why are parts of Leviticus still
being quoted in the New Testament as valid, including other examples of anti-homosexual
sentiment such as in Romans 1:26-27. However, if by
following the ‘Book of Leviticus means homosexuals ‘shall surely be put to
death’, this breaches not only law in the majority of modern societies but also
the commandment that ‘Thou shalt not kill’. The call for the death penalty of
homosexuals by a religion that condemns murder is a complete contradiction, it
is simply committing a sin to punish another sin. It is both logically and
morally unsound. Biblical scholar Roger Barrier, summarises the view of many
modern scholars, concluding that ‘In considering which parts of the Old Testament
we can ignore and which we keep, we must delve into the concept of cultural
differences. Many of the Laws are not applicable for us.’5 Here Barrier suggests by
following religious doctrine on homosexuality, particularly that of the Old Testament
and it’s ‘Moral Laws’, we are hindering the development of our understanding of
sexuality as a society. A recent poll found that opposition to homosexuality is
highest among those in society who are the most religious. Taking this into
consideration it is plausible to argue that the more secular the society, the
more likely they are to be accepting of homosexuality. This supports Studer and
Thornton’s conclusion that religious institutions have taken the most prominent
role in prescribing standards of appropriate sexual conduct over the course of
history. 6

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This paragraph will investigate
the impact of science on our understandings of sexuality, particularly
focussing on psychological understandings of homosexuality throughout history.
In 1965, TIME magazine ran an article entitled, “Homosexuals Can Be Cured” which
reported that male homosexuals were able to convert to heterosexuality through
the means of psychotherapy. An excerpt from this particular issue of TIME
stated ‘One reason why homosexuals are so rarely cured is that they rarely try
treatment. Too many of them actually believe that they are happy and satisfied
the way they are’.7
The use of the word ‘treatment’ in this excerpt suggests that there was a
strong desire in society for this ‘illness’ of homosexuality to be reversed rather
than it being accepted as a sexual orientation. Continuing this excerpt, it is
stated that ‘Another reason, says Philadelphia’s Dr Samuel B. Hadden, is that
too many psychiatrists are still inhibited by the 45-year-old pessimism of
Freud, who was convinced that the condition was discouragingly difficult to
treat’8. As early as the 1920’s
Freud emphasised that ‘it is not for psycho-analysis to solve the problem of
homosexuality’ and by 1935 he argued that homosexuality was not an illness and
strongly discouraged any attempts at curing it.9 Despite this, by the
1950s, this theory was widely ignored following the events of World War II and
the attempt for society to return to the following of the traditional nuclear
family.10 In the 1960’s and 1970’s
this led to an increase in attempting to ‘treat’ homosexuals through conversion
therapy. In April 1965, just months after that TIME article ran, Franklin
Kameny contended that ‘This is not science, Dr Hadden; this is faith’, this
statement by Kameny is reflective of a growing resistance to scientific intervention
in homosexual behaviour.11 In 2015, the TIME article
‘A Half-Century of Conflict Over Attempts to “Cure’ Gay People” supports this
deploring of their own 1965 article, stating that ‘They were looking for a
“cure” for individuals, and frequently missed the sickness, and unkindness, of
society’.12
This direct dismissal of their magazine’s own previous suggestions that homosexuality
is a curable illness, displays a drastic shift in attitudes towards
homosexuality in science over the past fifty years.

This paragraph will
explore societal attitudes towards sexuality, focussing on the changing
attitudes of homosexuality in different cultures during different historical
periods. According to the 2007 Pew Global Attitudes Project, ‘Throughout
Western Europe and much of the Americas, there is widespread tolerance towards
homosexuality. However, the United States, Japan, South Korea, and Israel stand
apart from other wealthy nations on this issue; in each of these countries,
fewer than half of those surveyed say homosexuality should be accepted by
society. Meanwhile, in most of Africa, Asia and the Middle East, there is less
tolerance toward homosexuality”13. In order to explain
these differing societal attitudes, Amy Adamczyk argues that these national
differences in acceptance are a result three factors: the level of economic
development, the strength of democratic institutions and the religious context
of these countries’. 14 However,
there are examples of resistance to the growing acceptance of homosexuality in societies
in which this theory of the three factors are defied. For example, in a
statement by the American group the ‘Christian Organization Alliance Defense
Fund’ they argue that ‘The homosexual activist movement are driving an agenda
that will severely limit the ability to live and practice the Gospel, whether
it is in the boardroom, the classroom, halls of government, private
organizations, and even in places of worship. In their relentless attempts to
obtain special rights, that no other special interest group has, they are in
the process of redefining the family, demanding not only ‘tolerance’ … but
‘acceptance’, and ultimately seeking to marginalize, censor, and punish those
individuals who stand in the way of their multiple goals’.15 This suggests that
opposition to homosexuality doesn’t necessarily derive from society. Theorists such
as Judith Butler, suggests that homophobia is not a societal issue but rather
an individualistic one, based on the fear of being identified as gay and men’s insecurity
about their masculinity.16 Whereas
Gregory Herek, noted how portrayals of homosexuality are often based around
homosexuality’s stigmatisation in society. Stigma’s such as the AIDS epidemic,
child molestation, and the breakdown of the nuclear family and gender roles are
often associated with homosexuality and the gay rights movement. Herek supposes
that as a result of this stigmatisation, negative stereotypes of gays are
distributed throughout certain societies which hinders the acceptance of
homosexuality. Thus, suggesting that homophobia is in fact a societal issue.

To conclude, the
understandings of sexuality, particularly homosexuality, have predominantly
developed to become more accepting throughout history. As outlined previously,
this is a result of a number of factors, such as developed scientific theory
and the breakdown of negative stereotypes. However, seemingly societal changes and its gradual secularisation is the
predominant factor in societies gradual growing acceptance of homosexuality,
as displayed by the changing attitudes and legislation in modern Western
societies in particular.

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